Illustrator Mark Preston uses 3D software to add an extra dimension to his photomontages
Behind the pictures
Interview by Laura Hogan
Do you consider yourself to have a trademark style? If so, how would you describe it?
My style of illustration is generally described as photomontage, but I like to add some 3D modeling into the artwork because it allows me to go beyond what is easily photographable and allows me to be more creative with the brief. I have done two previous illustrations for Therapy Today (in November 2007 and October 2008) and, looking back at them, they are very different from the new illustrations, so my style has definitely evolved.
How would you describe the creative process you go through when you receive a brief? Does it vary?
Every job starts with sitting down and reading the brief (while doodling in my sketchbook) and then invariably researching topics on the internet, just so I am clear on what I am illustrating. By this time I usually have a pretty good idea of how I am going to interpret the brief and I sketch out my ideas in 2/3D to present to the client. From there, any changes that the client requests are made and then it’s on to the fun of making it all happen.
Generally speaking, how do you come up with your ideas? What inspires you?
The clues to the illustration are always hidden in the brief/text and it’s just a case of getting them out of there. A big sketchbook, lots of tea and some music help me extract the pictures from the words.
While working on your Therapy Today illustrations, did the ideas develop gradually, or did you know from the outset the direction you were going in?
It was different for each of the four illustrations. The cover illustration idea came together pretty much straight away after my initial reading of the brief; the related cover article illustration gave me the opportunity to tell a story in the artwork. The clinical hypnosis illustration ended up being a very simple solution but took a while to distill from all my sketches. And for the mindfulness illustration I ended up reading quite a bit more online to understand the subject before I was happy with my illustration idea.
What was your brief for your Therapy Today illustrations?
I was given the text for the articles and the dimensions for the illustrations, so it was a pretty open brief. I have worked for Therapy Today a couple of times before, so I know they are really open to the illustrator’s ideas.
In addition to your brief, can you describe what informed/influenced/inspired your Therapy Today illustrations?
Research on the internet is an invaluable help when formulating ideas for work, and reading something else written about the same subject can give you an expanded understanding and inspiration.
Did illustrating these particular subjects throw up any challenges? If so, what were they?
There were some technical challenges in creating the illustrations – such as creating a brain wrapped in chains and then making the chains out of pills – but, by using the dynamics in 3D software, I was able to get all of the elements to work together just as I wanted. Modelling towers of books for the mindfulness illustration took quite a while to get just right.
Can you describe in a nutshell what you were trying to convey with each image?
For the Martin Seager article (‘Bad science and good mental health’), on the cover I wanted to get across the idea of the use of drugs impeding mental health. Then in the cover story illustration I wanted to show how, by replacing the drugs with therapy, the problems could be resolved. The clinical hypnosis illustration was really a visual interpretation of mixing hypnosis with a medical element. Finally, in the ‘Mindfulness for students’ artwork I wanted to show how daunting the prospect of study can be to students but, at the same time, that there is a way through these perceived difficulties to achieve the desired goal.
How do you feel about your finished work? What do you like most about your images?
I think that they work well as a set of illustrations and I hope they convey the meaning of the articles that they accompany. It has been great to be given the opportunity to do a series of illustrations like these and tie them together with an overall feel while still keeping each of the illustrations distinct from one another.
Do you have a favourite image?
I think the cover is the most striking image of the series. The challenges that my initial concept presented required innovative solutions to the technical problems of creating the elements and it is always very pleasing to see an idea like that developed through from sketch to final artwork (and for it to look as I had initially imagined it in my head).
Apart from Therapy Today, where else might we see your work?
I am a regular contributor to the Financial Times’ FT Weekend magazine and various other magazines and book publishers around the world. For the last few years I have also been illustrating children's books under the name Aardvart.
Mark Preston originally studied and worked as a photographer in London before gradually moving into more illustrative work. He has worked as an illustrator for over 20 years on a wide variety of projects, from book covers to magazines, advertising, packaging and most things in between. He currently lives and works in Sussex with his family. Visit www.mpillustration.co.uk to see more of his work.